A small break, a big difference

A few days off in the fall could significantly improve students’ mental health

A fall reading week would offer students a chance to catch up on school work and with their loved ones at home.
A fall reading week would offer students a chance to catch up on school work and with their loved ones at home.

With today’s growing awareness of mental health on university campuses, Queen’s students seem to have it pretty good in terms of access to services. Student Wellness Services, AMS Peer Support Centre, the Jack Project and other initiatives on campus all offer an outlet for counselling and advice on everything to do with one’s mental health. 

However, for a university that champions the mental health of its students, the lack of a fall reading week is a glaring omission from a comprehensive plan to improve mental health on our campus.

In 2013, Brock, Western, McMaster and Carleton University all tested their version of “fall breaks” for the first time. Their goal? To give students a break from the high stress atmosphere of first term that’s a common catalyst for the onset of more serious mental health problems. 

For many students, a fall break would offer an immediate escape from the stress midterms bring. 

As we all know, mental illness affects one in five Canadians. However, this number is inflated among post-secondary students, “where close to one-third of students experience elevated psychological stress”, according to the Dalhousie University’s Proposal for a Fall Reading.

The opportunity to remove oneself from this high stress environment and de-stress could prove invaluable to students. Whether students spend time with family, catch up on some readings in the face of coming exams or even sleep in — these types of de-stressors could help break the build up of pressures that can trigger the deterioration of mental health. 

The implementation of a fall break would be particularly valuable for first-year students who are often only 18 years old upon arrival. New stresses that come with leaving high school and home could be lessened with a quick trip back to see family. 

For first-year students, being able to ease into the pressures of their first term at university can help ensure a healthy experience in subsequent years.

By removing themselves from the stressful environment, students can better cope with the normal pressures that had once seemed overwhelming.

When I spoke to my peers about the possibility of a fall reading week or break, they brought up some valid points against its implementation. 

Some of them said a longer summer is more valuable to them than a little break in the middle of the term. As well, some feared that Orientation Week would lose some of its length in order to implement the short break during the fall. 

These are all valid arguments and I totally understand them. It’s impossible to make everyone happy, after all. But I think a fall reading week would ease the stresses of the most at-risk students for mental illnesses. 

In my opinion, giving up a few sunny days at the end of August for some much-needed days of relaxation during the height of midterms is something I’d gladly opt for. 

I’m sure we’ve all wished for a day where we could sleep in, or just catch up on some readings, without having to worry about that next assignment. I believe that this peace of mind only comes when days are set aside and mandated for this purpose. Holidays such as winter break, Thanksgiving and winter reading week all provide an almost built-in permission to forget about school, and just relax. And boy, do those days feel good. A small fall break mandated by the university would provide the same kind of peace of mind to students.

If Queen’s seeks to present itself as a university that addresses the mental health needs of its students, then a fall break needs to be next on the agenda. While the aforementioned initiatives on campus may help students with mental illness, why let it get there in the first place? For many students, a break may be all they need to avoid slipping into mental illness, and maintaining a manageable level of stress instead. 

Sadly it’s the suffocating onset of stress that exacerbates conditions such as anxiety and depression in so many of us. The feeling of not being able to get ahead, or the endless onslaught of assignments can sometimes trigger periods in our mental health that are difficult to recover from. 

That is why I ask Queen’s to consider the positive effects a fall break could have on the mental health of students. 

If a break can positively affect students at other universities across Ontario, why not here at Queen’s? The answer may not be clear, but the benefits of time off are like crystal.

The ability to get away, get some rest and catch up, in the middle of a busy fall term, appears to be a simple solution to the common problem of poor mental health at Queen’s. 

Because we all know that sometimes we just need a little break.

Adam Davis is a second-year political studies major.

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